Copper has been valued by mankind for over 10,000 years. Its unique properties, malleability, ductility, and pleasing aesthetic appearance make it a top candidate for a wide variety of purposes. It also makes friends easily by forming to any number of useful alloys and binary compounds.
Brass and phosphor bronze are two copper alloys that retain many of copper's valuable qualities while holding unique characteristics of their own. Collectively, copper, brass, and bronze are called the “Red Metals.” You may think of these three when picturing old candelabras, light fixtures, and statues. But due to their similarities, many people may find it difficult to tell these metals apart.
So what’s the difference between copper, brass, and phosphor bronze? The infographic below and the accompanying article will answer all the questions you have about the differences between these metals, what they are used for, and how to identify them.
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES of Copper?
Known for being strong, formable, and corrosion resistant, copper is a highly versatile metal used in modern production for applications where electrical and thermal conductivity is needed. These qualities make copper ideal for products like pipes, pipe fittings, and electrical wiring. Likewise, because copper can be recycled without any loss of quality, it is estimated that an impressive 65% of all copper ever mined is still in use today.
Historically, copper has been sought out for decorative purposes and its natural bacteria-fighting capabilities. Because of the latter, it has been used to sterilize wounds and purify drinking water. Currently, copper's bacteria resistance makes it a popular material to use in high-contact wares like cookware, food preparation tools, and hospital products.
WHAT IS BRASS?
Brass is an alloy, meaning it’s the product of copper combined with varying levels of zinc. You can also add other elements to bronze to take advantage of their different properties. For example, if you add manganese to bronze, it will increase its corrosion resistance.
Brass maintains many properties of copper but also brings some unique qualities of its own. The properties of brass include:
- A low melting point
- A yellowish-gold color
- High thermal conductivity
Brass is excellent for ornamental or decorative uses due to its gold-like color. The addition of zinc to the alloy brings it even closer in appearance to gold and will result in a stronger, more ductile brass.
It is also used extensively in musical instruments including many types of horns, as well as guitar strings. Its notable corrosion resistance makes it an ideal choice for plumbing applications. Likewise, since it maintains excellent conductivity because of its base element, copper, it is often used in electrical connectors and fittings.
what is phosphor bronze?
Phosphor bronze is another common copper alloy. It is the product of copper, tin, and phosphorus. There are many types of bronze, and you can confuse yourself quickly trying to determine the differences between phosphor bronze vs nickel bronze or phosphor bronze vs. aluminum bronze.
The important thing to remember is that bronze is always an alloy of mostly copper and tin. The addition of other elements into the alloy like phosphor, nickel, aluminum, or even arsenic and silicon, are what determine the different types of bronze.
The properties of bronze include:
- A reddish-brown color
- Electrical and thermal conductivity
- Low friction with other metals
- Corrosion-resistance especially to seawater
Brass is often used in marine and fishing applications too since it holds up when exposed to saltwater. Its malleability, combined with the appealing color, also allows it to be used when creating sculptures and musical instruments.
While it is less conductive than copper, brass is still highly conductive and is used in electrical connectors. Brass’s low friction with other metals also makes it an ideal choice for applications where wear and tear might be a problem, such as bushings and bearings.
what ARE THE DIFFERENCEs BETWEEN BRASS AND phosphor broNZE?
How do these two alloys stack up against one another? Is brass stronger than bronze? Is brass better than bronze? What about how to identify bronze vs. brass? And what’s the difference between a bronze vs. brass finish?
The answers to these questions depend on what you’re looking for. Neither metal is better overall. In some ways, they are very similar, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. See the graphic below for a visual guide to their key similarities and differences.
Your major takeaways? Brass is hailed for its higher malleability and lower melting point than either phosphor bronze or copper. It also has a brighter golden color. This can make it easier to work with, and it may be more desirable for decorative purposes. But brass also has a higher susceptibility to cracking and is not as resistant to corrosion in seawater.
Phosphor bronze, meanwhile, yields a greater hardness. It has a reddish-brown color that might be less aesthetically pleasing depending on the application. The low-friction is incredibly useful in applications where it is making physical contact with other metals.
Choosing the right metal for a job can be overwhelming, but ensuring the proper material for your project is too important to leave up to chance. Download our Complete Guide to Buying Metal Products to guarantee you start on the right path with the right materials, or contact Mead Metals today, to get expert advice on your next project.